The Google E-A-T Score: What Is It and Why Does It Matter?
Expertise, authority, and trust—improve your rankings by optimizing the things Google cares about
Nailing E-A-T is vital if you want your website to stand out from the crowd. But what is E-A-T, and how do you make it work for your site?
This post will tell you everything you need to know. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- All E-A-T related concepts defined.
- How to make the relevant changes to your website.
- A rundown of the benefits you could achieve.
Here are some terms you’ll see in the post:
- E-A-T: Expertise-Authority-Trust
- QRG: Quality Rater Guidelines
- YMYL: Your Money or Your Life
- Trust signals
- MC: Main content
- SERP / SERPs: Search Engine Results Page
What’s E-A-T and Why Should You Care?
The short answer? E-A-T is part of Google’s ongoing attempts to stop people gaming the system, by forcing them to create useful quality content. Websites, companies, and content creators are all under the lens.
The goal is to make web content better for human users.
E-A-T places strong emphasis on three things:
It’s another nail in the coffin for low-quality spam content ranking highly. (And good riddance, we say!) Rewarding people for creating content built on expertise, authority, and trust is a win-win-win:
- Site owners can demonstrate their expertise, authority, and trust.
- Google can rank the right pages.
- Human users are delivered high-quality content that actually answers their queries.
This last bullet is the most important. Google often make small tweaks to their rankings algorithm, but E-A-T isn’t just one update (as Panda and Penguin were). Instead, it’s an ongoing process of refinement to ensure that the right pages rank.
It’s no exaggeration to say this ranking factor has affected every site on the internet. And it’s not just websites that have been affected. Recently we spoke to a company owner, who is redesigning the entire ingredient list of their product, a food supplement.
To keep up with Google’s E-A-T updates.
By switching a few things around, they will be able to claim without any shadow of a doubt that each ingredient in their supplement achieves the desired effect. Their current formula works, but the effects of some ingredients aren’t unanimously agreed upon.
This may not sound like that big a deal, but it’s a perfect example of why Google implemented their E-A-T score in the first place.
Relevant Google Algorithm and Guideline Updates
When was E-A-T announced? The answer is quite different from what you’ll read on some SEO blogs.
In 2013, the first bits of buzz around E-A-T appear on observant SEO industry blogs.
On March 29, 2013, Google first mentioned YMYL pages in version 4.1 of their Search Quality Ratings Handbook. This slips below the radar of many SEOs.
Then, in 2014, version 5 of Google’s Search Quality Evaluation Guide leaks. More priority is given to the expertise, authority, and trust of websites.
In July 2018, the QRGs were updated to emphasise beneficial purpose and creator reputation.
On August 1, 2018, Google’s Medic update dropped, and many blogs made the mistake of thinking this was the introduction of E-A-T.
But people who have been paying attention know E-A-T had been around for five years by this point.
What Is the E-A-T Score?
E-A-T is a gradual introduction of several interlinked concepts, along with several algorithm tweaks that change how sites rank as a result.
Here’s a breakdown of each aspect. Note there is some overlap between the points:
What is expertise in SEO?
An organisation should be knowledgeable and capable.
Content creators should have demonstrable expertise in the relevant area(s), and should not spread misinformation, either deliberately or otherwise.
Unsubstantiated claims should not be made, and claims should be cited where relevant.
Credentials backing up this expertise should be on display. This doesn’t have to be formal education. Ten years of experience would make you an authority on guitar teaching, for example.
Content should answer questions that are being asked, demonstrating knowledge while tapping into real demand for information.
What is authority in SEO?
Google wants to understand that a website is held in regard by other people in the industry and that authors are regarded for their opinions and ability.
The main content (MC) of a page should be relevant to the wider site in order to contribute to the site’s overall authority on a topic.
Opinions should fit the wider consensus or should be suitably backed up if they disagree.
Author(s) should be named, and their writing should appear elsewhere. These citations should be numerous and ideally from sites and organisations that are themselves considered authoritative.
Organisations should demonstrate associations with trusted publications and bodies, and authors’ opinions should be cited elsewhere.
What is trust in SEO?
If Google sends someone to a website where they get scammed, everyone loses.
As a result, they are keen to make sure all sites in the SERPs are trustworthy, and that people’s needs will be met quickly and in full.
Trust covers anything that fosters a sense of safety and security with an organisation and contributes to the certainty that they are who they say they are.
Content on About Us pages should introduce organisations and people. Embedded Google Maps should show real physical premises, so prospective customers can see they’re dealing with a real organisation.
Customer service information should explain the transactional process, with privacy policies and return policies to show prospective customers that they have recourse.
HTTPS connection should be the default when making payments, and logos of accepted payment methods should be shown to reassure people that their money is safe.
Ratings and reviews to demonstrate that other customers have engaged with a business and been satisfied.
Awards and other accolades from industry bodies to demonstrate acknowledgment and recognition.
In short, anything that reduces the doubt of a user or prospective customer.
What is reputation in SEO?
It’s not part of the E-A-T acronym, but reputation is an important factor for sites and content creators too.
This looks beyond the site at reviews and mentions elsewhere on the internet.
Remember, content creators are under the microscope here too. If they have enough reputation to be mentioned a lot externally, this works in their favour. As long as the mentions are positive, of course.
How Does E-A-T Impact SERPs?
As we’ve seen, E-A-T is designed to make sure websites and the content they host are expertly written, authoritative, and trustworthy. And that other people agree.
E-A-T-related tweaks to Google’s algorithm are advised by human reviewers, who sift through hundreds of websites and evaluate them according to Google’s QRGs.
The quality raters cannot directly influence how individual sites rank, but their findings are cross-referenced with SERPs to make sure the high-quality stuff is ranking.
Thousands of updates are made each year on the back of this feedback. More than 2,400 changes were made in 2017 alone.
Special emphasis is placed on sites and industries considered YMYL: Your Money or Your Life (definition coming up shortly).
What are the quality rater guidelines?
The QRGs are outlined in an extensive document and are designed to guide the work of quality raters: real people who manually review websites.
(You can download the latest version here. It’s a huge document, but well worth a read.)
The feedback of quality raters is used to evaluate the effectiveness of Google’s algorithm, and the QRGs are one of the best insights we have into the decision-making that fuels the search engine.
They are the closest we get to confirmation of which factors the algorithm uses; if Google advises their quality raters to look out for something, we can be pretty sure they consider it important.
The guidelines break pages down into “Lowest, Low, Medium, High, and Highest quality.” It’s implied that Google wants pages most resembling the high-quality ones to rank.
Raters are asked to consider, in this order:
- The purpose of the page.
- The content’s E-A-T score.
- The main content quality and amount.
- Information about the creator of the main content.
- Reputation of the creator of the main content.
It’s not a perfect equivalency, though. The guidelines don’t mention some factors (links for example) that we know to influence SEO.
What is Your Money or Your Life?
This refers to sites that could negatively impact“the future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety of users”, if the quality is not up to scratch.
Wondering what a YMYL site is? It’s a broad umbrella, including things like this:
- Any site where money changes hands: money transfers, bill payments, product purchases, etc.
- Medical sites: information on illnesses, advice on medication, etc.
- Newspapers, blogs, and other journalism: anything contributing to how informed people are.
- Legal pages: creating a will, custody information, legal recourse, etc.
- Financial advice: investment, savings, etc.
This list is far from exhaustive: Political content, content about car safety, television schedules, and everything in between could potentially be considered YMYL pages.
What are trust signals?
Google’s algorithm cannot determine whether or not something is true. It can, however, look at patterns to see whether other people and organisations vouch for the truthfulness of information.
In the same way that a link from several authoritative sites is seen to vouch for the quality of a website, the same information on several authoritative sites is seen to vouch for its truthfulness.
Or, as Google says:
“Our ranking system does not identify the intent or factual accuracy of any given piece of content. However, it is specifically designed to identify sites with high indicia of expertise, authority and trustworthiness.”
So if someone trustworthy says the same things as you, your trust will increase.
How to Boost Your E-A-T Score
This is the good bit. Actionable changes that you can make right now to boost your website’s E-A-T score.
We’ve broken these down into several sections, all of which will send the right signals.
And remember: don’t neglect ranking factors that aren’t in the guide. We’ve included these at the end too.
Consistently create high-quality, shareable content
You want to strike the balance between posting often and not posting for the sake of it.
Make sure the content you publish serves a purpose, and be honest: ensure the content delivers on the purpose it purports to serve.
Avoid clickbait titles. Getting punished in the rankings isn’t worth the few extra clicks you might get.
Here are some guidelines for E-A-T-friendly content:
- Publish often.
- Use named authors.
- Attribute content to real authors, preferably ones who have written elsewhere. Link to their other work and, where relevant, use schema mark-up to show their other web presences.
- Stay on topic. (We write about SEO, PPC, digital marketing, and so on. A post about baking the perfect cupcake would be out of place on our blog and would confuse potential readers.)
- Write primarily with the human reader in mind, rather than the algorithm.
- Use keywords, but only when they occur naturally in writing about the topic.
- Research to make sure the keywords you’re writing around are the right ones.
- Echo opinions of thought leaders in your industry; try to contribute to the consensus rather than just mimicking it. If you have opinions that go against the grain, cite them, and explain how they fit into the wider picture.
- Use sources. You can get access to the abstracts of most journal articles, so if you’re writing about something scientific, it’s not hard to back it up.
Trust signals you need on your site
The idea is to foster a sense of trust by showing all the ways you are credible. Users will actively look for some of these, while others will address subliminal concerns.
It’s important to remember that expectations are different for new sites. Start-ups may not have industry awards yet, and new products won’t have had time to accrue reviews. In this case, the ratio of positive to negative is more important.
Here’s what to include:
- Any awards or prizes you’ve won.
- Any clients you’ve worked with, the bigger and more recognisable, the better.
- Publications and websites where your products, services, or content have been featured.
- Any association memberships.
- Ethical trust signals, things like paying a living wage. This taps into the Halo Effect: people will think that if you pay your staff fairly, you probably do other good stuff too.
- Payment logos for all methods users can use to pay for goods.
- Qualifications of any staff members, where relevant.
- HTTPS to demonstrate your site is fully secured.
- Social proof: reviews, star ratings, testimonials, and more. From real people.
- Guarantees: “money back,” “no quibble,” etc.
Not all trust signals are made alike. Visa will carry more clout than American Express, merely because more people recognise it.
Using only positive reviews may make people suspicious. Tread the careful line between trust generated by reviews and suspicion generated by only positive reviews.
It’s a matter of balance too. If your entire site is filled with awards, client logos, magazines you’ve been featured in, association memberships, and similar … Well, you might look a bit desperate.
As one site says in an article about this topic, “you don’t want your site to have so many logos on it that it’d put a NASCAR driver to shame.”
Show off the things you’re proudest of.
How to boost your site’s authority
If you sell products, ask your customers to review things they have purchased. This real-life feedback (hopefully positive) will ease concerns of prospective customers and will demonstrate to any manual reviewers that your audience is on board with what you do.
Look to get reviews outside of Google’s ecosystem, too. Reviews and mentions on non-Google services like Yelp, Feefo, and similar will all contribute to your authority and reputation.
Ask for testimonials. If you don’t sell products and your service doesn’t lend itself to starred reviews, ask for written feedback instead and promote this on your website.
Ask people to spread the word, too; if they’re satisfied with your product or service, perhaps they’ll be happy to give recommendations?
From a content perspective, you can boost authority by being more selective with guest content, whether you host it on your site or contribute it to others.
How to demonstrate your expertise
When you work in an industry, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. Things that are obvious to you are the things your customers don’t know about. Things that seem uninteresting to you may very well be interesting to them.
You should write content that flaunts your expertise, then host it on your site and beyond. Get knowledgeable members of your team to write content and promote it under their name. Get them to share it on LinkedIn, Twitter, and elsewhere; their existing audience will boost your engagement.
Then, engage in conversation. Building your reputation takes work, but the dividends it pays are more than worthwhile.
And Don’t Forget …
While you’re building your E-A-T, don’t lose sight of other important SEO factors:
- A properly functional website with good content and no dead pages.
- Consistent branding and tone of voice across platforms.
- Consistent NAP (name, address, phone number) across the internet and offline.
- Accurate and up-to-date schema markup on your site.
- Accurate and up-to-date metadata on your site.
- Ongoing link-building efforts to source inbound links from high-quality, relevant sites.
- Fast page speed, with special attention paid to mobile speed.
- Responsive design: your site should work seamlessly across all devices.
There You Have It
E-A-T came from Google’s ongoing efforts to rank the best, highest quality content at the top of their SERPs. When this is the case, everybody wins.
- Users are served content that helps fulfill their needs.
- Businesses are rewarded for creating quality, useful content and being trustworthy.
- Google cements its reputation as the best place to go when you need an answer.
There is no space for skimping on content quality in today’s SEO landscape. Following the E-A-T principles—expertise, authority, trust—will bring you success.
Originally published at https://edge45.co.uk on June 5, 2019.